Empyreal Battle Platform Ryuk, High orbit around Cerberus 7, Neo Greece
I wake to the sound of Ryuk’s voice calling me. “Empress Maiha, we’ve just entered Space Norm. Our current position is just over the Eastern continent.”
“Thank you, Ryuk.” I take a few seconds to sit up and gather my baring’s. Once I know where I am I head for the stateroom’s bathroom for my morning duties. I smile over at Alice as she sleeps on. I know I should wake her, but this is one time that I need time to myself. It has been seventy years sense I was in this system last.
Looking out the screen for our room I see a planet that I prayed I’d never seen again. “Cerberus seven. Hell’s own battlefield. Wasteland for Death. Jungle planet turned desert. You claimed one too many lives. I could drop a Seven-forty Core Cracker and not shed one tear.”
As I shower I think back to that day seventy years ago, the day that gave birth to a legend. I remember as we came into the System our drop ship came under fire. The Galvarian Horde had been pushing hard to take this System. They were only the newest threat to the Empire from alien races. It still amazed me that this system was such a crossroads for attacking humans. For more than fifteen millennia this system has played a role in humanity’s existence.
It doesn’t take me long to shower and take care of personal needs. I took my clothes for the day with me into the bathroom, and dress there to let Alice sleep. She really does need her sleep. This pregnancy has been a little harder on her than the last one. The Nightingales have told me that is a boy. I think I’ll name him after a friend of mine. It would be a befitting tribute to the man that saved my life on this planet so long ago.
“Ryuk, is my assault shuttle ready to fly?” I call out.
“Yes, my Empress. My I ask why we have come to the Lost Planet?” leave it to the oldest Shinigami AI to ask the one question that I don’t want to answer. Then again of all my advisors he is the only who would understand. With the Reverend Mother Katsumi handling the problem on New Holland he is the only one I can really talk to right now.
“How up to date are you on recent history, Ryuk?”
“I have been able to assimilate the past four hundred years fully, my Empress. I know that Cerberus seven was attacked by the Galvarian Horde seventy years ago, and that they were thrown back by the efforts of the Third Armored Calvary Death Dealer Division, the Brave Rifles. Was this not one of the divisions that you belonged to?”
I sigh heavily before I answer. “Yes, old friend. I was one of those Brave Rifles on Cerberus.” I stop tying my boots. Ryuk’s next words brought back that terrible time.
“The ten days of Hell.”
I sighed and looked down at my hands. I knew there was blood on my hands form those ten days. I can still hear the screams in my nightmares of my friends dying around me. As I close my eyes I can see the faces of those that died in those ten days. Not just the faces of my friends, but my targets as well. I was a fresh-faced kid of seventeen at the time, straight out of Basic Training, and Sniper school. I had set one of the highest marksman scores to ever come out of Heaven.
The Cerberus Campaign was my trial by fire. My very first combat operation. It is also the one that has haunted me the most. Thirty-Six Combat Campaigns over a sixty-year career, and the only one that truly haunted my nightmares was the first one. The one that cost me eighty percent of my original Fire Team. Men that I had spent twenty-nine weeks training, eating, sleeping, living with. Men who became closer to me than my own family. My Brothers in Arms.
“It was more like two hundred and forty hours of Hell, Ryuk. We used every damned dirty, underhanded, low-down, sneaky, backstabbing, immoral, fracking trick in the book, plus a few that we thought up on the fly. The Death Dealers have always pride ourselves on following the Treaty of Cantlie and the Articles of War.” I turned and considered the mirror in my bathroom. I could still see the haunted eyes of the man that I once was there behind the eyes of the young woman looking back at me. “We broke more than a few of those rules, Ryuk.”
“For some reason, Empress Maiha, I don’t find that hard to believe. I also don’t find fault in what any of you men did back then. The Galvarian Horde are a ruthless, bloodthirsty, race of mass murderers.”
I know that Ryuk was trying to calm my nerves and ease my guilt over what we did eighty years ago. We didn’t fight a ‘Civilized War’. It was a war of genocide. The Galvarian Horde called the tune when they targeted the civilian hospitals, schools, and population centers. Those monsters killed every human they came across. Man, woman, child, young, old, sick, healthy, soldier, civilian, it didn’t matter to them. If it was human the Galvarian Horde killed them. “It still doesn’t excuse what we did back then Ryuk. Death Dealers are supposed to be better than that.”
“Maiha, that was eighty years ago, you have paid your penance. A penance that most humans would have been crushed by. You have exceled where others would have failed.”
“Okay, Ryuk, I get the hint.” I sighed and headed for the door to my stateroom. As I pass through the bedchamber I took one more look at Alice. I know that I’ll see her later in the day, but for now, and what I must do I have to place my love for her to the side. No matter what else happens, Alice must never know about that hated day.
As I walk the almost empty corridors of Ryuk I once again think back to that day. I can still see the faces of my first Fire Team. We were a bunch of real hard charging, devil may care, rogues. As I enter the Flight deck I’m greeted with the sight of my bodyguard fire team for the day. Seven members of the meanest unit in all the Empire, The Hellhounds. As I look them over I see the same attitude of my original fire team.
There’s Lieutenant Mark Haskell the team leader. He has the same can-do, take charge, attitude that Lieutenant James Mayfield had. The man that promised me that the war with the Horde would be over before we ever reached the surface. How I wish he had been able to keep that promise. We would bury that young man fifteen days later in the heart of the Neo Greece sun.
Next up is Sergeant First Class Gary Person. Eighteen years of hard won experience and know-how. Leader, teacher, a real molder of men. So much like Sergeant First Class Dan Roberts. The man who taught me more about being a soldier and man than my Drill Instructors ever did. Roberts gave me a sense of purpose and my code of honor. Staff Sergeant Roberts lost his left arm, leg, and eye, to an artillery burst.
I have to stop myself from giggling when I looked at the next two bodyguards. Sergeants Lisa and Lorrie Alveres. A set of twins that are as deferent as they are alike. Just like Billy and Bobby Carmicle. Lisa is the joker just like Billy was, while Lorrie is the serious one, like Bobby. When Billy and Bobby were together they were always able to keep our spirits up with their hijinks. We held their memorial the same day that we did for LT Haskell. The twins as we called them died during a rocket attack. We never found their bodies.
Corporal David Light feather is next in line, and most likely the craziest of the seven. The man loves his high explosives. As I look at this young man I cannot help, but think about Dizzy. Corporal Danny ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie engineer, scrounger, explosives expert, and all around nut job. He taught the me meaning of his favorite saying. ‘No problem is too big that the proper amount of explosives cannot solve.’ I have to believe that Dizzy is giving the Goddess fits with his home-made firecrackers. They tend to put holes in the ground, big damned holes.
The man that was next in line forced me to hold my breath every time I see him. Corporal David Stokes could be the twin brother of Steve. Steven Atwater, spotter extortionary. I spent two months with Steve going through the hardest training there is for Death Dealers, or any military force in history, Sniper School. If it hadn’t been for Steve, I doubt that I would have graduated from that course. He was the one to settle me down for the hardest shoots I ever made. We lost Steve on Tiberius Nine eleven years later.
The last member of the detail and fire team was not only the smallest, and youngest, but in all honesty the deadliest. Private Karrin Hanse, Snipper First Class. The young woman could put four out of five rounds inside of a one-inch circle at over fifteen hundred meters. Karrin was pure death with her rifle at any distance. The fact that she prefers to use a Hellsign Castle Arms model ninety-eight, ten millimeters, bolt action, rifle is too scary for me at times. Every time I see her with that weapon I am reminded of my younger self. In a way, it is kind of funny. Before Karrin went through the Second-Generation Death Dealer process she was Kevin.
The whole fire team may be Drow Elves now, but they all volunteered for this. Hell, most of my personal bodyguards asked to change race when it came time to go through the process. They did it as a favor to the former Queen of High Wind, Queen Tatiana. I as I think about the old Queen I look down at the seven pieces of oval metal tags in my hand. I had a promise to keep before the day was done.
“Are we set for drop Lieutenant?”
“Yes, ma’am. The pilots are just waiting for us to broad. As you ordered Empress, the Jump Suits have been prepped for a Stratosphere jump.” Lieutenant Haskell’s smile dropped before he asked me what was really on his mind. “Empress Maiha, may I know why we’re not just flying straight in?”
I sighed. I knew that sooner or later, one of my bodyguards was going to ask. “Lieutenant Haskell, this is something I have to do to keep a promise my grandfather made long ago. He was unable to keep that promise, so it has fallen to me. If there were another way to do this, and keep that promise I would.”
“Yes, ma’am. We all know how you go out of your way to keep your promises. To tell you the truth the Hellhounds have changed our moto to ‘Break bones, not promises.’ We’re just worried over your safety.”
This time I chuckled. “Lieutenant, when it comes to a Jump like this, I can do it my sleep.” I was not about to tell the young man or this team that I had actually slept through an Assault Jump once let alone a training jump from this altitude. Besides, none of them know that I was once James J. Owens, Sr. the First High Lord of Death Dealers, also known as Death.
“We, would prefer that you didn’t sleep during this one, Empress. I don’t know about the LT but there is no way in the Nine Hells that I’m going to tell the War Princess that you got yourself killed by doing something stupid on my watch.” Sergeant First Class Person’s gruff voice and demeaner let me know he was serious despite his joke.
These men and women were pros, each one of them. They knew the dangers involved with this type of jump. Extreme High Altitude Low Opening jumps were not something people did lightly. There were more ways to die in EHALO jumps than I care to list at any one time. “Sergeant the biggest threat is not during the jump, but when my lovely wife finds out. That’s why we’re doing this now, in the middle of the third watch.”
That had the desired effect and got my bodyguards laughing. Everyone aboard Ryuk had heard the stories about Alice’s mood swings thanks to her hormones running wild during pregnancy. More than one innocent flower vase had been on the receiving end of an anti-personal laser blast. We quickly boarded the shuttle and secured the hatch.
Ten minutes later the assault launched, and we were on our way to the drop zone. A drop zone that hadn’t been used in eighty years. Eighty years ago, this part of the continent was a lush green old growth forest deep in a mountain valley. It was still a valley, only it was now there was no forest, only barren desert. A desert, that was swept with driving winds and rolling sand dunes. A desert created to kill just one team of Death Dealers, my team.
I and the team quickly got into our Jump Suits. We had less than twenty minutes before atmosphere entry, and ten minutes to the drop zone. It didn’t take us long to be ready and load into the drop capsules. Ten minutes after entering the capsules I felt the shuttle bit into the upper atmosphere. As the last man in line I would be leaving the shuttle behind team. We would be in a single file line all on the same trajectory leaving just one contrail behind us. This was the perfect way to hind our numbers to an enemy. This was something that all Jump Infantry train for. While Death Dealers were the one percent of the military, the top dogs, the Jump Infantry were just behind them.
I felt the first capsule fire and knew that within four seconds I would be in free-fall. I didn’t long before I felt my own capsule fire. At this altitude it would take close to ten minutes before we hit the ground. I felt the jerk of the outer air breaks bit into the upper atmosphere. I knew it wouldn’t be long now. I felt the air breaks burn away and the outer shell fall away. Ten seconds later the drag shut deployed yanking up on my capsule. Just like the others I knew that my capsule would break open and I would be in open air.
Air that would be breath able. I knew it wouldn’t be long, and I was right ten seconds later. The last shell split and fell away. I was in open air feeling the wind rush past me. Soon I felt my adrenaline kick in and take me to that place deep in my soul. I haven’t felt this alive in a long time. It was like dancing on the edge of a razor. Pushing my sense to their limits. It was everything I needed to get past the depression that had gripped me over the past few days.
During this time I never let my duties suffer, but I was going to carry out my promise. I knew I was doing something reckless, something that could place the Empire at risk, but there were four successors to the Throne in my children. I had already seen the makings of one of the greatest Emperors in my son James. I knew that Alice could handle running the Empire until James came of age. For now I just needed to keep a promise.
I double check my altimeter, and my position in the formation. I realize that I had drifted a little off track and make a slight correction. I drop back in line behind the others. That’s when Dee De gives me some bad news.
“Maiha, your altimeter is off by close to five hundred feet.” Dee De.
“The altimeters for the enter team are off by five hundred feet. Commander.” Charlie.
“DAMN! Dee De pass the word to the others. Charlie, scan through the data base and see who was in charge of the equipment.” I had just finished giving those orders when Charlie pointed something out.
“Commander do you believe that this was an attempt to endanger the Jump Infantry?”
“Yes I do, Charlie. As much as I hate to say that.” I knew that there were people within my Empire that would love to see the military crippled in this manner. Hell, there were people who love to see me dead, and my family as well.
Thanks to Dee De’s warning the team and I were able to correct for the faulty altimeters. At five hundred feet we pulled our primary ripe cords. One after the other the chutes opened on time, just as advertised. The walls of the canyon were over four thousand feet high on each side at an angle that was far to step and close to land a shuttle. We found that little bit of Intel the hard way seventy years ago. It only cost our unit four resupply drops before the pilots started to use HALO Drops to resupply us. The Galvarian Horde lost close to ninety fighters trying to pry us out of this valley.
As we packed away our chutes Lieutenant Haskell walked up to me. “Ma’am, I don’t know what happened to the altimeters. I know that we doubled checked all the equipment, and it was working back on Ryuk.”
“Did you use the computer in the jump room or your AI’s?” I knew that they use the jump room computer by the look on his face. “Lieutenant, I have a feeling that the jump computer is in need of recalibrating.”
I had no sooner finished that statement than Charlie confirmed my suspicions. “Commander, I have just completed my investigation. You are correct in your suspicions. The computer in the jump room has not been updated in the last four weeks. Its data base is out of date and is scheduled for the update at the end of the week.”
“Thanks Charlie. Did you find out who is in charge of that computers maintenance?”
“Yes Commander. Tech Sergeant, Billy Lee.”
“Thank you, Charlie.”
“Lieutenant I would suggest that from now on you use your Death Dealer AI’s to double check the Jump room computers. Remember that all of you have more computing power with your AI’s than a Tactical Strick Computer for a Division Command Center. Use it Lieutenant.” I smiled to take the bite out of my rebuke, but I knew that I got the point across to him and his team.
“YES Ma’am!” they all called out as one. Then as one they went about their assigned duties.
It didn’t take us long to reach the old fortifications. Even after seventy years you could still see where we had drug our positions. From mountain top to mountain top a ten foot deep trench with pillbox bunkers every twenty meters. Every fifty meters was an artillery bunker site. From end to end every inch of the valley was covered by enter-locking fields of fire. When we opened up not even a field mouse would be left alive. In the center was my fire team, the Ghost Riders.
The point that would be hit time and again. I lost track of how many charges we turned back just by holding our ground. That was when I first met Prince Sha Dan, the last Emperor. He walked the line from one end to the other. At no time did he look down on us poor dumbass grunts. He was one of us. Sha earned my respect when the Galvarian forces attacked during his visit to our position. All hell had broken lose and he jumped right beside us. He stood there and fought right along with us to the bitter end. He could have pulled out, as his security force want, but know he stayed, and fought.
Sha earned more than just our respect that day. He earn our loyalty in spades. I remember sitting around our fire pit having the first hot coffee and fresh cigarettes in days with him. He was the first to call me Death. He actually was the one to hind me standing outside the trench talking with my imaginary friend I called Death the day before. At the time I had no idea of who he was. I mean who would expect the Crow Prince to be walking the combat lines on a planet at war.
Nothing mattered right now, though. That was a time long ago, in a place that no longer existed. We and the Horde made sure of that. It was our battles that turned this once lush planet into a barren desert. Nothing was pulled, we went at each other like rabid dogs. The blood lust that was unleashed on this planet was without equal in Human history. Not even the Second World War of the twentieth century matched what was done here.
The battle for Cerberus seven was unlike anything in our history. APS, AI tanks, IFV, units of all types were destroyed to the last man. The Galvarian Horde took no prisoners and killed everything in their path. Nothing was left behind but death, ash, and gore. We fought with everything we had. If there was a dirty trick we used it, if not we thought it up. For ten days we battle the Horde in this valley. And for ten days we put everything on the line. The fabled Ten Days of Hell.
It was on that last day that we lost three members of my team during the Horde’s finale attack up the valley. Nothing we did was slowing them down, they just kept coming. If it hadn’t been for the attack fighters coming down the valley one at a time we would have been dead. Those fighter pilots were crazier than ten shithouse rats. The risks they took were beyond reason and earned them all the Iron Cross for bravery. Twenty-seven pilots made those runs. Only eleven pilots made it back out of the valley after their run.
I bought those men a round of drinks in thanks at the first chance I had. It was all I could do at the time. Sense I was made Empress I made sure that the grandchildren of those pilots were all taken care of. The finest schools and colleges were offered to them all. I did it in memory of those brave men.
My thoughts were brought back to the present as we crossed on to the valley floor. I stood there looking around. Once again I had to fight off the memories of my brothers that fell here on that terrible day. I came so close to dying on that day I gave up believing that I would see the next day. When I survived that last battle I knew that I had used up all my luck. Form that day on until my forced retirement I treated every day as if it was my last. I looked down one more time at the seven pieces of metal in my hand.
I jump into the old trench and walk to where our battle position was. As I walk the line I think about the men that gave their lives here. Each place held the face of a friend in my mind. I finally reach the spot that was my position. I extend my Close Quarters Combat blades from my left hand. With slow steady movements I cut out a square area in the trench wall. Pulling out the block I had cut I smiled one last time at those pieces of metal.
In ancient times they were called dog tags. Each one had a deferent name on them, along with blood type, social security numbers, and religion. Lieutenant Mayfield took me down to get mine made the day I join his team. Dog tags were no longer used by the military. They had been used in over seven centuries. Now, they were just a privet thing among teams. Even now there few units that followed the ancient traditions. I placed the seven dog tags in the hole and replaced the block of concrete I had cut out. Using my anti-personal laser I wielded the block back in place.
“Excuse me ma’am, but what were those pieces of metal?”
I turn and look over at Private Karin Hanse. “Private Hanse those were known as dog tags. My grandfather’s team had them made for each member of the team. They did it as a sign of brotherhood. Like a rite of passage.” I stood up and took one last look around. I said my fare wells. I had kept my promise to my team. “Let’s get a move on. We have four hours to reach our pickup point. It’s a nine mile hike to the shuttles landing zone and I really don’t want to still be on the ground when my lovely wife wakes up. I don’t even want to think about how deep I am in the shit with her.”
My joke had the desired effect. We could have dropped the uniforms and engaged the Second Generation Bio Armor that all Death Dealers had and made the trip in under a few minutes. But this valley was deserving of better than that. This valley of the dead was to be respected, like all battle fields. As we walked the valley floor my security team asked questions about the battle that had taken place here. I would point out the places where we had fought bitter hard won battles. When they asked how I know all this I lied saying that my grandfather told me about all of the battles here.
It took two more hours to reach the pickup point. As we boarded the shuttle I was greeted by a very pissed of spouse. Namely my lovely wife Alice. “Just what the hell do you think you were doing with that stunt?! A fracking EHALO?! ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!” Yup Alice was pissed.
“Love, why don’t we talk about this back on Ryuk?” I know I sounded like I was whining, but I just can’t fight her at times. And unfortunately this was one of those times. Our little by play got the two security teams laughing. Our bodyguards have become use to our fights and moods. The fact that Alice once been one of their number made our relationship more than a little complicated at times. They all knew when and where to put down their collective foot and we had to listen, and obey their wishes. Then there were the times when they just sat back and let us go at it with each other. This was one of those times were they would just sit back and laugh at our antics.
I knew that mine and Alice’s little fight was far from over, but this was not the place. Once we were ready the pilots took off and headed for Ryuk. As we passed over the valley one last time at high altitude Alice called out to our bodyguards. “Hellhounds Attention! Present Arms!”
As one our bodyguards came to the position of attention and saluted. I had to fight off the tears that came to my eyes. These fourteen men and women were showing respect for men who died before they were born. This was the Brotherhood of War at its finest. Here in front of me were a generation of soldiers twice removed from those who fought and died here seventy years ago and they still understood the meaning of sacrifice to a higher ideal. Once clear of the valley Alice called out one more order. “To! As you were!”
Once the bodyguards had returned to their seats Alice smiled. “Thank you all. We the Empire owe a great debt to those who fought and died here. A debt that can never be repaid.” Turning to the seven member team that had gone down to the planet with me, Alice held out seven sets of dog tags. She walked up to each one and presented them with the set that had their name. Once done Alice looked at this young fire team and smiled. “You seven have been chosen to carry on a proud tradition and name. Ladies and gentlemen I give you the next generation of Ghost Riders.”
This story is dedicated to the men of the 3 ACR LRSD 1st Platoon, The Ghost Riders. Enjoy the rest you so richly earned my brothers. Your memory and names will never be forgotten.
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